Freeway Chase Ends in Slaying


While her husband and 10-year-old stepdaughter watched helplessly, an off-duty California corrections officer was shot and killed on a darkened freeway ramp after an apparent late-night altercation along the Riverside Freeway spiraled out of control, police said Sunday.

The assailants were described only as four men in a large, dark car, and police were asking for assistance from anyone who may have seen any part of the chase and shooting late Saturday night.

Elizabeth Ann Begaren, 40, was pronounced dead at UCI Medical Center in Orange after she had been shot at least twice, police said. She had lived in Lancaster and had been a state corrections officer since 1989, beginning her assignment at the state correctional facility there in 1993.


To co-workers, she was known as a “bubbly” and well-liked officer, and her death was being mourned Sunday at the prison where she worked. A flag flew at half staff, and her corrections department colleagues wore black bands across their badges in her honor. Even inmates expressed sorrow.

“It may be that officers tend to be more assertive” in the face of potential trouble, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Joe Vargas. “They pay us to solve problems, not run away from them.”

Vargas stressed that there was no evidence linking Begaren’s job to her shooting. He said it was being treated by police as a “random act of violence,” like other examples of so-called road rage violence plaguing the nation’s motorists.

Details of the tragedy remained sketchy Sunday. Police did not reveal who was driving the blue 1996 Kia Sportage, a small sport-utility vehicle, or what ignited the altercation later described by Begaren’s husband.

They said Begaren, her husband, Nuzzi Begaren, and his daughter were headed east on the freeway around 11 p.m. Saturday when the apparent altercation began. Police did not know whether shots were fired during a chase that Vargas said lasted for “quite a distance” along the freeway.

The Begarens evidently tried to evade their pursuers by getting off the freeway at East Street about 11:15 p.m. Vargas said they may have thought they could defuse the situation by doing so.


But the car driven by the assailants continued the chase, following the Begarens’ car off the freeway, across East Street and onto a ramp leading back onto the freeway, forcing the family to a stop. Vargas said Begaren stepped from her car, and four men stepped out of the car in front. Several shots rang out, and Begaren fell to the pavement.

Vargas said a passerby saw the aftermath of the deadly confrontation and called 911. California Highway Patrol dispatchers notified police in Anaheim and Fullerton, both of which abut the freeway.

Begaren was carrying the state badge identifying her as a corrections officer, although police did not know whether she had a chance to identify herself to her assailants.

Investigators did not know Sunday how many of the four men in the other car fired shots, Vargas said. He said Begaren’s husband and stepdaughter were inside their car when the shots were fired.

“The shooting was witnessed by the 10-year-old and by her husband, and they have been especially traumatized,” Vargas said, adding that counselors have been called to help the family.

Construction along the freeway made it dark and difficult for the husband to see what kind of car the assailants were driving, Vargas said.


Co-workers at the prison in Lancaster were “distraught and in disbelief,” said spokeswoman Diane Gonzales. Counselors were also on hand there, she said.

“I can’t characterize it as anything other than an immense loss, a tragic loss,” said Gonzales, who supervised Begaren at times during Begaren’s tenure with the department.

“We’ve even had inmates tell us that they’ve heard and that they’re very sorry,” Gonzales said. “I think that says a lot.”

Begaren was a member of a specialized unit that investigates criminal activity within the prison.

“She was extremely dedicated and would always get the job done,” Gonzales said.

But she said Begaren was not an aggressive person, and added that she would be surprised if she had become willingly involved in a confrontation with another driver.

“She was bubbly, a cute little thing with freckles,” Gonzales said.

At the family’s Lancaster home, Nuzzi Begaren was distraught Sunday.

“When I came home, my daughter ran inside the bathroom to hide,” he said. “It’s too much.”

Witnesses who might have seen Begaren’s car on the freeway late Saturday night were asked to call Anaheim Police at (714) 765-1516.


Times staff writer Evelyn Larrubia contributed to this story.